The Impact of Maternity on Careers in Tech by Emma Waltham

Automatic Summary

The Impact of Maternity on Tech Career: The Silent Disruptor

Dr. Emma Waltham, a maternity returner specialist predominantly working in the STEM sector, shares her expert insights into the profound impact of maternity on careers, specifically in the tech industry. She is a fierce advocate of discussing and tackling the issue to create a more inclusive work environment for women.

Navigating the Crossroads: Maternity and Female Careers

Waltham highlights that maternity poses a significant challenge for women across sectors, but particularly in male-dominated fields like tech. Women often struggle to see successful examples of maintaining their professional growth while embracing motherhood. The lack of visible templates for successfully blending careers with family life adds to the challenge.

Emma's Personal Journey: From Disruption to Specialization

Drawing from her own experience, where the birth of her children posed a roadblock in her rising career, Waltham discusses the practical difficulties encountered while resuming work post maternity break. “I thought I'd be able to just pick up where I left off. But it wasn't really that straightforward,” she says. This led her to set up a business specializing in working with organizations to help them better support maternity returners, thus ensuring an improved experience than she had herself.

The Untold Unpleasant Truths: Maternity Bias and the Gender Pay Gap

According to Waltham, women are frequently subject to stereotypes and biases once they choose motherhood, affecting opportunities, promotions, and pay-rises offered to them. There's a significant increase in the gender pay gap as women reach their forties, as it is often the impact of motherhood preventing them from reaching managerial positions. She reveals, "Working dads are twice as likely to be promoted as working mums due to biases."

Creating an Inclusive Workplace for Women

Waltham firmly believes in the potential benefits of creating an inclusive workplace for women, especially those returning post maternity leave.

The Importance of Role Models and Inclusive Culture

Inclusive work cultures value diversity, ensuring women feel safe and capable of having children while progressing in their career. She emphasizes the need for role models, stressing that you don't necessarily have to be a woman to champion this cause.

Flexibility at Work: Not Just for Moms

Flexible working is another significant aspect of creating an inclusive workplace. However, this should not be exclusively offered to working moms. Waltham points out, "When it's just working moms, that are working flexibly and it makes them feel kind of special and different."

Strategies for an Inclusive and Family-Friendly Workplace

  • Ensure family-friendly policies with clearly mapped processes.
  • Embed flexible working.
  • Check and correct any stereotypes and assumptions.
  • Involve women in their maternity cover planning.
  • Offer support after maternity leave.
  • Be transparent about pay and promotion processes.

In conclusion, Waltham's insights emphasize the significant impact of maternity on women's careers and how organizations can respond appropriately to assist women navigating this life transition. Her strategies offer a promising roadmap towards creating truly inclusive workplaces that value and support all employees, thus setting the stage for more diverse, enriched, and profitable business environments.

Video Transcription

You? Welcome to this session on the impact of maternity on careers in tech. Um My name is Doctor Emma Waltham and I'm a maternity returner specialist and I work predominantly in the STEM sector. So with tech women and organizations.So I'm really delighted to be here to talk to you today about this really important subject. Um You know, it's fantastic that we're encouraging women to come into tech careers. Um But uh maternity is a real pinch point uh for women in their careers, not just in the tech sector. Um but across the board, but it's particularly difficult for women when they're in male dominated environments and they can't see um women having Children and being able to blend their careers um with, with family life successfully that there aren't templates for that. Um So I think, you know, it's just great that we're talking about this subject. Um And it's something that I'm really passionate about. So I'm gonna start by telling you a bit about how I came to specialize in this area. Um So I started out my career in STEM. I've got a chemistry phd. Um And over time I moved into different areas.

So I've worked in different sectors like media um and recruitment and my career went pretty well and I rose up to executive director level um when I was in my mid thirties. So it was, it was going pretty well my career. Um And then I hit a bit of a roadblock because, because I had Children and it was really difficult at that time um for me to um carry on with my career. Um So I took a career break and when I went back to work, when my Children were small, I thought I'd be able to just pick up where I left off. But it wasn't really that straightforward for various reasons, obviously. Um I changed and also it's a bit more difficult to get into it when you've got a career gap. Um So I decided to set up my own business. And uh over the last six or seven years, I've come to specialize in working with organizations to help them support maternity returners. Um so that they have a better experience than I had. So I was working in a, in a male dominated environment uh where there weren't people with Children at senior levels working flexibly. I was doing a lot of travel um in, in Europe, I'm based just near London, uh but also in, in Asia.

Um And so it was really difficult for me to see how I could sort of marry up being a mom with having that kind of role. Um So it's something that's really important to me and, and something that, you know, clearly is important to you if you're, if you're watching today. Um So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna take some time to look at kind of what the lived experience is for women going through the maternity transition. Um And then we're gonna look at how we can help. So whether, you know, we're on that pathway ourselves or whether we're working with women as managers or hr or colleagues, or if we're partners of women going through this major life change. Um So I'm gonna start by talking a little bit about what it's like for, for women as they become mothers in the workplace. So we're really looking at this to a sort of professional workplace lens and obviously having a baby is a wonderful experience. It brings so much to our lives, it's really enriching. Um But it's true to say it's really disruptive.

Um So, right from, you know, pregnancy and birth, uh there's a really strong physical signal that that women have, have chosen motherhood and that can really trigger people to uh make assumptions and stereotypes about women um when they've chosen to become a mother. Um So there's sort of maternity bias that that can happen and it can affect women at work in terms of kind of opportunities they're offered um promotion pay rises, um and so on. Um and obviously for women themselves, uh, it's a big change. It's a change physically and emotionally and sort of practically as well. Um, so going through this, this change can affect people's feelings about their identity. Um, priorities in girls, you know, they've got someone really important more important than themselves now that can change kind of their, their priorities in girls. Um, and also taking a break from work. So here in the UK, um, it's very common for women to take 6 to 12 months off when they have a baby. Um, away from paid work, obviously paternally, it is a busy time. Um And that, that, that does vary, you know, in different parts of the world, but certainly any sort of extended, uh, uh time away from work can make us feel more detached from work in our kind of personal self.

We, we can lose touch with that and that can affect confidence on the return to work. Um And there's other emotions as well like guilt, you know, grief, really going back to work and, and leaving your baby with someone else. Um And there's also sort of practical things around, you know, dropping the child off at nursery and, you know, and all the extra work that, that kids create and having to deal with that while working as well. So there's lots going on there at a personal level. Um But there's also, you know, things that happen um in the organization as well and in and in society at large which impact on women. I'm, I'm gonna look at those now. Um, so I'm afraid I can't see the chat. So I'm gonna ask you some questions and feel free to put the answer in the chat. But you know, at least have a think about the answer before, before I tell you what it is. Um, so the first question I've got is how much work in the home that chores, admin shopping, cleaning, childcare do women do compared to men? So women do more work in the home than men. It depends what um what research you look at. But typically the answer comes out at about twice as much.

And there's a particular study that I'm gonna share with you a 2018 global diversity study which looked at countries across the world and it found that generally women did, you know, uh twice as much work in the home as men. And this is important because what it means is that women are doing kind of full time job often in the home before they even go out to pay, do paid work. So that's often why they ask for flexible working because they need to work around. These are the commitments. And it also says something about how women um aren't able to participate fully in the workplace because they're doing this, this unpaid work um disproportionately to men. And I think it speaks to the fact as well that equality, um, needs to begin at home.

And if, if women aren't equal at home then they're not gonna be able to be equal in the workplace. Yeah, they're gonna be held back from participating. So, it's really important. Another question here. What percentage of women assumed primary responsibility for childcare or home schooling in the pandemic?

Um, well, it probably won't surprise you that again. About 70% of women took that on so much more than likely than men. Um This was a study that was done in the UK by BBC and Kantar Public. But other studies around the world carried out in the US by the UN have found similarly that women when there was a crisis were the ones that kind of stepped up and took on these extra responsibilities. So again, you know, that's something that women have to bear in mind when they're going back to work that they're probably the ones that are going to have to deal with it. If there's an issue, how much bigger does the gender pay gap become when women hit their forties? Um The gender pay gap is a representation of how much women appeared compared to men. It's average uh hourly pay. Um And in the UK, there was a study published in December last year 2021 which showed that the gender pay gap quadruples when women uh it got to their forties. Um This was released, this uh uh study by the Office of National Statistics. And what they found was that it was the impact of motherhood, women weren't getting into those managerial positions because of motherhood. And this meant that they were earning less than men in their forties and beyond. And again, that those types of trends we do see globally as well.

It's not just in the UK, how much more likely are, are working dads to be promoted than working mums. Well, here in the UK, in 2018, they were about twice as likely to be promoted as working moms. Um And the reasons for that are because of, of biases really. So when men become dads, they're assumed to be more committed at work because they're the breadwinner and they're more likely to be promoted whereas the women uh have become mothers, um they're perceived as being less capable and less ambitious and they're less likely to be given pay rises or promotions.

Um So all this has a big impact, has a big impact on, on working women. Uh This is some of the quotes that women have, have told me in my work with them. I work 1 to 1 with women and, and also uh working organizations. So I hear a lot about what women have to say um particularly in the stem sector. Um So it impacts on them financially massively because they earn less at work and in their working lives um in the UK it's about the, the, the, the amount of money that they earn less than men is equivalent to an average sized home over their lifetime. And this doesn't affect them only when they're at work. It affects them in their pension, uh, in their, in their retirement because the pension is usually about half, uh, the amount of money that men have. Yeah. So it's a lot less, um, and as well as affecting women individually, it also affects uh businesses as well and it affects their profitability. We know that more diverse workforces um are more profitable. Um uh There's research by mckinsey and co which, which is, is great to look and shows that that when you've got gender diversity at senior levels, businesses do better. Um because of that diversity of thought.

Um and also because, you know, if women are able to participate at work and come back and be productive, um and, and, and uh be promoted and carry on their career pathways, um then companies are retaining that talent. Um And that, that is really important. Yeah. So I've talked a lot about sort of the negative, I suppose impacts on, on professional lives for women. Um uh when, when they have babies and it is a major pin point in, in women's careers. Uh but there's lots we can do to improve the situation. And if you're a woman looking at working um in, in a company, um and you, you want to see, you know, are they family friendly? I thought it would be good to look at, you know, some of the indicators that you might look for. And also if we're in organizations, you know, whether we're managing people, we've got colleagues who are having Children, um or, you know, we're in hr what kind of things, you know, can we look for what signs are there to show that our culture is inclusive for women because it, it's great, you know, that we're bringing women in, into tech careers, you know, with varying degrees of success.

But if, if the culture isn't good and they're not able to feel that it's a good place to become parents and to stay after they've had their babies, then we'll lose them. Yeah, it has to be a good culture for them. Otherwise, you know, anybody that comes in is just gonna think this isn't for me and they're gonna go into another section and we're gonna lose these women. Um So what kind of things do we see? Well, we see women want to stay in an inclusive place. So um they want to, they, they, they see people um modeling behavior and attitudes that make them feel safe and able to have kids and, and be able to carry on their career and, and we'll see, you know, more diverse range of people working there in an inclusive environment. Often we'll see flexible working. So I talked about this before how important it is for women to have flexible working because they're doing a lot outside the workplace in the home and they need to be able to work around that and they're often the people that need to step up if there's a issue. Um, so, you know, they, they need to prioritize that and be able to work around, around those responsibilities.

And it's really important as well that it's not just working moms that are given flexible options, working patterns and, and being able to work from home system or, or all of the time. Um, it's good, it's, it's good for them if this is across the board. Um, because when it's just working mums, um, that are working flexibly and it makes them feel, you know, kind of special. Um, and, and maybe different that can be more challenging for them. It's, um, awful, you know, if you're the only one doing that walk of shame, um, sort of late in the afternoon, you're the one that's got to go and pick a child up, you know, from, from childcare and everyone else is sat at their desk and you're the only one walking out and, you know, that makes people feel, um, you know, that they're not, um, well that they're different and, and, and that also they, they might be worried about losing that.

I see it as a privilege that only, they've got that working pattern and they need to work extra hard, um to be able to keep it. So it puts them under a lot of pressure. Um So even if there aren't lots, lots of women in the organization or there aren't, you know, working women, uh women with, with Children, um anybody can, can do flexible working. Um So if you've got people at senior levels doing that as well, that's really powerful. Um And, you know, and men working around their kids or, you know, maybe taking chaperone to leave those kinds of things are really important and make women feel that, ok, I can, I can do what I need to do and I'm not gonna stand out and be different and I'm, I'm not gonna have to work, you know, twice as hard to keep that special working arrangement and I guess that feeds into role models, you know, it's great if we've got women, uh, you know, further up in the organization or in the sector that have got kids and they're showing that they can blend working life, um, with family life.

Um, but, you know, maybe that's just not possible with, with the numbers. So, um, anybody can be a role model, you know, showing that they're, um, talking about their family or, or spending time with their family, you know, taking time off holiday or parental leave, um, taking time to go to Sports Day and things like that, you know, working those flexible hours can mean, you know, that they're a role model, even if they're not, you know, female, uh going back to work after having had their baby, um, all these things then feed into having a family friendly reputation, one in which, you know, colleagues and employees will want to talk about the organization as being family friendly and encourage, you know, their friends and family to come and work there because it's a great place to work when you have Children.

Um And, you know, the company will be able to talk about those things that they're doing to help support families, uh and parents, you know, whether it's networks or flexible working, um it can be, you know, benefits, enhanced maternity benefit and, and, and paternity benefits and so on.

Yeah, and what we see there is that women are able to come and participate and be productive. So because they're able to, you know, um do everything that they want to do at work, you know, whether that's get a promotion or go to a conference, um or, you know, carry on on their career pathway or take on, you know, that GC interesting project, develop their skills, you know, they're being productive and that obviously benefits the organization massively because they've got that talented, experienced person um that they've recruited and that they want to keep and that will continue to be productive, you know, for years to come.

And also what that means is that women have um better well being. So when they um feel um that they can blend working life with, with, with being a parent, then they're going to be happier and have a stronger well-being. Um So just to wrap up, really, here are some strategies uh for us all to, to use uh to be able to help with that. Yeah. So um it's about organizations having family friendly policies and clearly mapped out processes with an employee journey. So everybody knows, kind of, you know, what, what a support people need as they go through this maternity transition and the managers are trained and hr are trained to be able to support women at those pinch points. Yeah, flexible working is embedded. Um I think as well. It's important that people um check their assumptions. So we talked about earlier how when people are pregnant and that, you know, they're having a baby or they're coming back to working flexibly, it can make people maybe have stereotypes about their commitment to work. So we just need to be really careful that that that's not happening with those that we, we don't have those assumptions and that we've got a good communication with the returning woman. We kind of know what she needs and what she wants and we can work with her um are important.

Uh It's really great if women are involved in their maternity cover, it helps them feel more safe when they go on, on leave that they've got somebody there that they trust and that they'll be able to pick that back up easily when they come back. Um, it's great to reorientate women when they come back and offer them support. So, family networks, maybe a buddy or a men or, or a coach. That's something that I do for organizations. I refer to a maternity coach, you know, support women through that transition to ease them in so that they come back, feeling able to blend the, you know, their, their family life and, and, and work and then they'll, they stay in their careers sort of longer term and they can carry on.

They don't go through that pinch point. Um Some organizations offer childcare support. Um And I think it's also really great if they can, um if there's transparency around pay and promotion, that's something I see in my work that when when women put themselves forward for promotion, that they're really clear about what the criteria are and that the process is really transparent.

Um So that people again who are doing, you know, these hiring, making these hiring decisions are not, are not using, uh or, or, or, or making assumptions or, or, or feeling, you know, that there's a stereotype here, um and that's affecting their decisions. So there's lots of transparency around that. Um So that, that's pretty much it in a nutshell. We're, we're back at uh on to this start slide because I'm getting to the end now and I just wanted to say thank you for coming and listening. Um And I hope that, you know, what we've shared here has, has helped you uh whether whether you're a parent or you're working with, with, with, with, with, with returning mums to have, you know, an, an idea of what they're going through and what's impacting on them and also some strategies, you know, for helping so that we can all be allies.

Um And if, if we're women going through this transition, that we kind of have some ideas about what to ask for that might help us. Um If you've got any questions, please do get in touch, you can find me on linkedin. Thank you and bye bye.